A Short Story Worksheet (With Application)

This past weekend I read Joe Bunting’s new release, Let’s Write a Short Story. You can read about it here: http://letswriteashortstory.com. In the book, Joe challenges those interested in writing short stories to read them and learn from them, to see what the author did that worked. If you have any interest in writing a short story, you should grab his book.

The book has some instruction that applies to the everyday reader, too, though. What follows is an attempt to use the message from Joe’s book to create a short story worksheet. I offer an application below to test the worksheet out. I chose to dissect Andrew Blackman’s  “Nights on Fair Isle” which you can find at Solqu Shorts for free. Please remember this is only my interpretation and yours may be very different.

I’d highly recommend you read Andrew’s story before reading any further because my application of the worksheet may contain story spoiling details. Andrew is a contributor here, so if you enjoy his story you should consider leaving a note or giving it a rating

Here’s a link if you’d rather access it through Google Documents.

Here is my use of that worksheet on Andrew’s beautiful story:

Short Story Worksheet: Nights on Fair Isle by Andrew Blackman published at Solqu Shorts.

1. Who is the main character?

Aurelia – a young woman who’s just moved to London from a foreign country.

2. What is that character’s desire or decision? What do they want? What do they do to get it?

She wants a better life, but she misses her home, her family. She uses the spell cast by the shipping forecast to remember her mother, her family, and the stories her mother used to tell.

The story she remembers, the one her mother told her, makes us think she is called to something more than what she can have at home, but she misses home.

3. Who or what comes in conflict with the main character? How does that person, place, or thing work to frustrate the main character’s desire or decision?

The sharp sting of alcohol carried in by her real surroundings. Reality frustrates her dreams, her memories.

4. How does the main character change? How is he/she transformed by his/her desire or decision and the associated conflict?

She could refuse to abandon her memory, stop clinging to it, and she almost does, but at the end of the story we find her reciting the shipping forecast under the covers, blocking out reality.

5. Does the character succeed or fail?

She succeeds in submitting to the spell of the shipping forecast, but we get the feeling it is only temporary.

She refuses to completely submit to the story her mother used to tell her which has a happy ending.

6. How does the author open the story?

The author opens the story with an excerpt from the shipping forecast and the words “falling slowly.” It’s a very unique way to open a story.

7. How does the author introduce the main character?

The main character is introduced as liking the phrase “falling slowly.” She remains associated with it, and the shipping forecast, throughout the story.

8. What is the story’s mood?

I feel a longing when I read this story.

9. How does the story end?

Like it began, with an excerpt from the shipping forecast. The shipping forecast provides a nice bookend effect.

10. What tense is the story told in?

The story invokes past, present, and future tenses.

The Writer’s Tools: Cite an example of the author’s use of Action, Dialogue, Description, Inner Monologue, and Exposition/Narrative.

1. Action. 

“An icy draught from the window jolts Aurelia, and she sits up slightly on her elbows and looks out at the sky, the clouds a strange milky orange that still strikes her as unreal.”

2. Dialogue.

“She asked other people in the house: they laughed at her.  ‘This is a godless place,’ they said.  ‘There are no nightly prayers.’”

3. Description.

“The images of candles and incense have gone, replaced by ships bobbing on darkened seas, bearded captains listening by lamplight to the nightly incantations, perhaps jotting down in an old logbook: ‘Fair Isle, 985, falling slowly.’”

4. Inner Monologue. 

“It reminds her of the stories of the sea that her mother used to tell her, sweet lullabies whispered into the darkness so softly that they chased away the shadows and the fears.  Some nights, listening to the shipping forecast, she seems to smell her mother’s lavender perfume but, before she can quite be sure of what it is, a draught of icy London air from the ill-fitted window snuffs it out.”

“She thinks of the sea again, the vast, dark sea with lone boats listening to the shipping forecast, and it buoys her for another few minutes, each of them precious.  So much of her time she sells to others for a pittance; this time is hers alone.  She imagines one of those lone boats coming for her, sailing across the ocean, up the English Channel, into the mouth of the Thames and somehow finding her in the morass of London, plucking her up and taking her away.”

5. Exposition / Narrative. 

“She first heard the shipping forecast by accident.”

“For a long time she believed it was a nightly prayer.”

 Again, a link if you’d rather access it through Google Documents.

Photo: Some rights reserved by julio.garciah.

Reading While Writing: How Imitation Can Lead to Innovation and Improvement

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

A Balancing Act

Reading while writing can be like dancing on a tightrope above a pool of sharks for some writers. They love to read, but are overly concerned with falling into the ravenous word soup below them and being devoured by another writer’s stories and syntax. They worry about polluting their own compositions with a turn-of-phrase, words or ideas from other writers. They desperately want to write something original, to create their own particular voice and style, and be heard. So when it comes time to put words on paper, they’re not sure how to juggle their reading and writing. They’re sorely tempted to become purists, abandoning the books and authors that so inspire them to make sure they don’t (inspire them).

Far from the heights of the tightrope, floating with the flesh-eating fishes are another set of writers who are far more lackadaisical about their influences and “purity” of voice. They ruminate that since nothing is ever completely new, not even a freshly printed novel, why worry, let your story happen, unfold as it may, and if it manages to sprout new growth in the shadow of great books and so much literary noise, all the better.  After all, who are you, humble writer, to eschew the greats to search out something different?

For the majority of writers, these all or nothing approaches are useless. People who don’t read are rarely inspired wordsmiths.  People who do nothing but read, don’t have time to write (and I can sympathize, it’s tempting to skip final revisions of a draft to lose myself in someone else’s already finished story).  So where’s the balance?

It can vary, but most writers will find that getting their feet wet with reading, and even copying as part of the writing process leads them toward a better and more innovative final product.

Let Reading Be a Positive Influence On Your Writing

There’s no way to avoid it. Reading inevitably leaves its marks on your writing. But who says those marks have to be sloppy, unappealing hickeys that you can’t cover-up with concealer to save your life, or Grandma’s dignity at Sunday church?

Subject matter, genre, syntax, and dialogue, all of these elements are influenced by what you read. The simple spare prose of Hemingway may inspire you pare down descriptive elements in your novel, but that doesn’t mean you have to write about war, hunting or manly men. The dry wit of Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde may have your characters making snide remarks more often, but as long as they aren’t strolling about in period costume or spouting out Oscar’s famous quips, you’re probably fine. The epic saga of the Lord of the Rings may have you ramping up dramatic elements in your book series about an aristocratic family from the American South—so what, no one will guess your inspiration unless Magnolia’s younger brother is suddenly charged with guarding her precious engagement ring and skips the upcoming nuptials to lead a group of friends on a cross-country quest to drop and destroy it in the fiery depths of Mount St. Helens.

The point is good writing by successful authors will influence your writing in some way. But there is no reason this has to be a bad thing when in fact it can be a necessary stop on the path to finding your writer voice, and preferred subject matter. Most writers enjoy writing what they enjoy reading and are inspired to write by their favorite books. So swearing off Nora Roberts while you’re working up your romance novel is both painful and unnecessary.

Imitate to Innovate

Copying gets a bad rap as immoral and bad for creativity. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but  some writers regard it as a cop-out, way to escape developing an “original” voice. But the fact is that all great writing builds on the back of existing writing.  It’s your life experience plus the endless tweaking, modification, and personalizing of words and ideas that make them unique and your own. Reading great authors, and mimicking, a.k.a. “copying” their voices is part of that process.

Because in the end, we are a patchwork of the influences we’ve been exposed to up to now. The more we read, the more our writing will reflect. Don’t try to be a John Grisham clone just because he’s been wildly successful, but if there’s an element of his style you absolutely adore, why not incorporate it into your that story you’ve been working on? Don’t sweat the similarities, just remember that revisions can and should cure many evils and help prevent plagiarism.

Copycatting a writer or author you admire can also help you learn to write in a variety of styles and subject matters, a necessary lesson for commercial and copywriters.  To break into magazines and newspapers there’s nothing better. Reading other writers featured in a publication, and adopting elements of their style as your own is a great way to show that you’re flexible, familiar with the publication and know how to adapt your writing to fit the public.

In today’s world, what’s original, and what’s a copy becomes difficult to define.  Many writers have spun novels out of traditional folktales, fairytales and legends or even first-hand accounts of historic events. Are they guilty of copying? Perhaps to some degree, but from the old idea, they make something new. For a long time I was obsessed with fairy tales and Greek and Nordic Myths. So it’s not surprising I’ve read lots of fiction constructed upon these old stories. If I too decide to write a book that hinges on these traditional stories, am I a fraud or less-than-original? I hope not. Because if we as writers are limited to subjects and styles that have never been done before, we’re already out of subject matter….or at least subject matter that I’m interested in writing about.

What about you? Do you read while you write? Do see evidence of other writers’ influences in your words?

Do you think that imitation is immoral? Can it lead to innovation?

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Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

Photo: Some rights reserved by antony_mayfield.

[Audio] Heroes (Io, Europa, and Odysseus)

In this episode we talk about three heroes: Io, Europa, and Odysseus’ encounter with Polyphemus.

  • The Io story gives us the lineage of Hercules.
  • The Europa story gives us the name of a continent.
  • The Odysseus story is from a part of Homer’s Odyssey. It’s one of the most famous stories in the Greek mythological tradition.
After this episode I will probably break from our Mythology discussion and shift gears next week so stay tuned.

Critical Thinking and Chick Lit

This is an essay by K. E. Argonza.

One of the chief complaints against 50 Shades, Twilight  and other such tween trilogies was not on its style or rather surface plot. It was in its ability to influence our young girls into becoming docile, anti-feminist creatures that love abusive, temperamental men which will only, eventually, lead them to a life of disappointment, heartbreak and lead society back down a path of putting women back into the kitchen. Misinformation is harmful in itself when let loose to an audience that does not know any better. Some say that the world would be better if these books were not available.

I am of a different opinion, but before I make my assertion, allow me to insist on a few parameters: That we are talking about a population that has some basic education (High School) and ready access to a democratized Internet (or one that is not government regulated). I’d also like to make it clear that I am not defending its literary merit. Personally, I think that point is indefensible.

I am of the opinion that if women are so stupid as to fall for a few badly written books, then we women (or girls) obviously lack the critical thinking skills to handle responsibility of equality. Saying that women must be protected from such negative influences is an infantilizing statement.

If these teen trilogies have sent women back in the feminist movement, then men have been thrown back as well. So, men, you had better be prepared to take care of women for the rest of their existence and protect them from that big cruel world. I say that with complete sarcasm, though, as I am not of the cynical mind to think that one badly written book can send us back in time to a world pre-Sister Suffragetes.

There are women who will suddenly want a stalking, cannibalistic vampire for a boyfriend. There are weak and easily malleable women out there. I’m sure there are some women who now romanticize the early stages of an incredibly abusive relationship because they were influenced by these books in their formative years. Yet, anyone with an inquisitive mind and access to a smart-phone would be able to debunk that and figure out that in the world we live in, no good comes from that situation. Were 50 Shades of Gray and Twilight not works of complete fiction, they would have ended more like a Lifetime movie, instead of a supernatural fairy tale.

Yet, the same could be said of most works of fiction. In the real world, it would never have ended that way! We understand that about fiction. It is not true, so we must take it with a grain of salt.

When Elif Shafak was taken to court for something her fictional character said, she wanted to cry out that it was all a work of fiction! The voice of a fictional character is not the voice of an author, and even if it is, it should not be held as perpetuating some kind of truth. The story is made up! The people in it are completely falsified. It’s just a story. Therefore, it must be harmless.

We, as humans, feel a great need to protect. We want to perpetuate the values that we strive for and wish to impose it on the world around us. That includes protecting the women susceptible to the harmful rhetoric such as the aforementioned Trilogies. It takes considerable concentration to not try to shape the world to what we view as correct. It takes incredible humility to not assume that others do not have the faculties to effectively do that for themselves. 

It is funny how the men and women who declare these books as “bad”, morally repugnant and rail against it being sold are rarely the sort of people who would ever say they were susceptible to the book’s influence. These people are better. They are the critical-thinking, educated elites that would not fall for such things.

We think that people are weak and somehow in need of our protection. In that, we fail to see the inherent inequality and snobbery of our own thoughts. 

We are the protector. We protect others. We must save others from themselves.

We must protect women from the subversive themes of these trilogies.

We take the expectation and onus of critical thought from the reader and place the blame elsewhere. More often than not, we put it on the author. We put it on society. We put it on religion. We do everything but put it on the person who made the conscious choice to crack the book open.

One contrarian bit of misinformation will not topple the progress of an entire generation of women. If it does then my generation of women deserves to be toppled. Part of advocating for women’s equality is that women must be equal. If they are equal, then they are expected to be a strong, informed, critical-thinking population because that is what we expect of our men and routinely mock if they are not. 

After all, it’s just a book. The rest is up to us.

By all means, criticize it. Point out the misinformation in the books. Critique the plot, the writing, and the characters. Opine on its literary merit! But do not make the misguided assumption that any book or author is at fault for the reader’s choices. This book will be no more responsible for a young woman in an abusive relationship than Marilyn Manson was for every child that shot up his school. The fault lies in the individual, not in a work of fiction. It never has. It never will be.

These books are not the end of society. It is not even the end of feminism. In a place where people can critically think, it is the end of nothing. 

Let us not give in to our paternalism, but instead, expect greater of our thoughtful reader.

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K. E. Argonza has lived in four countries, was once fluent in three languages and has an annoying inability to stay in one place. This addle-minded millennial beat writer is an Afghanistan veteran, blogger at ShoesNeverWorn.com and can be followed on twitter @KEArgonza.

Photo: Some rights reserved by the Italian voice.

Ramble on Reading

“My tread scares the wood-drake and wood-duck, on my distant and day-long ramble;
They rise together—they slowly circle around.” — Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

My ordinary view on rambling is that it should be limited to the young and to the old, but I’m in the particular kind of mood you have to be in to ramble. Which is to say I’m feeling reflective and open — a dangerous combination. What follows are some of the ways books have changed me:

I used to rely on people to make me read until I learned to read on my own.

I used to be bored until I learned that, with the assistance of a book, my mind is a new playground everyday.

I used to think I was interested only in philosophy texts until I realized that any story worth reading offers a new way to live.

I used to spend time reading book lists and plotting my reading course until I realized that was akin to trying to plan every phase of your life.

I used to avoid some books, because I thought each had to teach me a lesson, until I realized that a good book might mirror the murkiness of life.

I used to consider books sacred and I refused to write in them until I realized my annotations are my own thoughts and started valuing thoughts more than paper.

I used to look forward to trips to the bookstore, and I still do, but one day I realized I’d rather be reading if I had to choose between the two.

I used to think I needed complete silence to read until I realized the best Stoics could study in any environment.

I used to lose concentration when I read, sometimes mid-sentence, until I realized training yourself to read long books is like training yourself to run a marathon, you do it one sentence at a time just like you put one foot in front of the other to run.

I used to stare at the TV for hours, and I still watch on occasion, but now I get bored with TV long before I get bored with a book.

I used to joke about never reading War and Peace and now I joke about needing to read it again, soon.

I used to think of The Great Gatsby as a book you read in high school and then put away forever until I realized we need that book more as adults than ever and that it means something very different to read it at 32 than it did at 15.

I used to avoid Shakespeare on the page until I saw it acted in real life.

I used to be afraid of The Leaves of Grass until I read about the assassination of Lincoln and the Civil War and I realized I was avoiding a book that helped America be reborn.

I used to look down on certain books in an insecure attempt to prove I was better than the people who read them until I saw that a generation of readers could be born from a book series starring a wizard or a girl with a bow.

I used to think that men of action were heroes until I learned those men need education behind their action to pass as heroes.

I used to take books from the library and never return them, a sin, now I invite people over and give them books and hope they never return them, but instead send them out into the world where they’ll strike each new reader like a bolt of electricity, like they’ve struck me.

I used to think the reason to read was to win arguments until I realized the reason to read is to be keen enough to avoid them all together.

I used to see Jane Eyre as a strange Victorian princess until I read her encounter with St. John Rivers and saw Bronte’s depth of perception as expressed through Jane; now I consider her a friend that offers good advice.

I used to think that the Odyssey and the Iliad were books about one man until I realized they were books about all men.

I used to think the Bible was a prescriptive text until I realized it does a good job of identifying the pitfalls, but can never offer all of the answers; a good reader has to close the gap on their own.

I used to think a good movie would beat a good book until I read enough to be comfortable with the details of everyday life.

I could go on because a lot has changed. I don’t want to get too sappy, but I owe it to the books I’ve spent time with and the people, like you, who’ve shared your passion for reading with me. Thank you for helping me grow and for letting me ramble.

 Photo: Some rights reserved by FeatheredTar.

The Perils of RWW (Reading While Writing)

This is an essay by Noelle Sterne.

We’ve all heard the venerable advice: to learn our craft and hone our skills, read, read, read. Granted, when we first start writing, reading the works of other writers helps. It shows us many approaches and techniques, enlarges our sense of subjects we thought were unthinkable, and gives us models for thrusting out to write what’s really burning in us.

But with all this reading stoked up, there’s a time to stop.

Surprising? Probably. Heretical? Maybe. True? Unequivocally.

I don’t advocate this action—or inaction—out of peevishness, contrariness, hatred of those published, or any other self-indulgence. Rather, like many other writers, I’ve experienced the distressing effects of too much reading.

When you’re Reading While Writing (RWW), first, you see a terrible gap. Your teeth clench and you want to throw up your hands and throw out your computer. “I’ll never write like that!” A friend many miles away, with whom I’ve had a long writing-related correspondence,started to struggle with a memoir of his growing-up years in New England. I mightily encouraged him and regularly fed him nuggets of advice.

Then he made the mistake of reading others’ memoirs. He wrote to me, “I’ve been reading Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City. Now, that’s a memoir.” I could see his face droop across the miles. “Damn,” he continued, “I’m out of my league.”

This remark signaled he was in danger of deserting his project. I whipped off a reply crammed like a care package with nourishing motivational chunks to counteract the pollution of his reading.

Neither was my friend immune to the second effect of reading while you’re writing: you get jealous as hell. You compare yourself—unfavorably, of course—with the other writers you’re reading. Despite the contamination, like inhaling aerosol, you’re unable to put them down. You aggrandize them, worship their descriptions, roll around their phrases in your head. You fester with envy that you haven’t thought of those grand, pithy, sonorous, sagacious words or done what they have.

And you’re sure you never will. The gap between your work and theirs is wider than the Grand Canyon, and you crave with a fervor greater than for macncheese on a diet that you actually were those other writers. As my friend self-diagnosed, “I’m suffering from memoir envy.”

Once you get over the horrible shock of the other writers’ brilliance and exhaust your fantasies that they’ll be stricken with a writhing voodoo plague, a funny thing happens: you begin to write like them. This is rarely conscious, of course, but it’s a particularly insidiousconsequence of reading too much while you’re writing.

My friend recognized this affliction during his own creative throes. He read yet another memoir and mused, “Am I, I’m athinkin’, lookin’ at a whole rewrite? Sorry for the dropping of the ‘g,’ but I just read Bob Dylan’s Chronicles.” If he imitated Dylan in his letter to me, who knows what Minnesotan Dylanese he imported into his New England memoir?

I recognized my friend’s experience in my own. As a yearning teenage writer, I read constantly, especially Jane Austen and Ray Bradbury. My stories revolved around superintelligent alien beings flirting coyly, sipping extraterrestrial tea over witty conversation, andalways monitored by puzzled, insufficient humans manipulating complex machines. It took a long time to change my settings and mindset.

In those years, I had no critical distance, but as an adult, to my writerly chagrin, I’ve also subjected myself to greater, and inappropriate, style infection. After reading Hemingway, I wrote a love story in terse, gruff prose. After reading Tom Jones, I wrote about a new corporate high-rise with stilted eighteenth-century flourishes. After luxuriating in two of Henry James’ novels, I wrote an article on a 3K race in endless, half-page sentences.

Even if you haven’t fallen prey to the imitation virus, note the words of others. In an essay unambiguously titled “Don’t Read While Writing,” veteran writing teacher Leonard Bishop says, “The moment your involvement with professional writing becomes a commitment, your reading habits should undergo a transformation. . . . When you begin writing seriously, it is wise to transform the time you use reading into time to be used for added writing.”

Why? Bishop likens the writer’s mind to an onion, made of “layers sheathed around deeper layers.” To reach more of our own core of knowledge, we must constantly peel away the layers we’ve accumulated of other people’s views, outlooks, and style. Bishop explains:“Isolation from reading while writing; separation from the ‘escape’ habit of reading; removal from the analysis of other people’s work help you peel away the sheaths.”

Creative coach Julia Cameron is more ruthless. For writers suffering from creative blocks, she prescribes a severe remedy: total “reading deprivation.” That’s right. No reading at all.

Why? She echoes Bishop more toughly. “For most blocked creatives,” she declares, “reading is an addiction. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.”

To extend Cameron’s metaphor, too often we abandon our own kitchen and rush to eat at others’ restaurants. But what does this avoidance get us? Only intellectual bloating, a queasy feeling of wasted time, and the nausea of self-disgust. And worse: stuffing ourselves with all that reading keeps us from discovering our own feelings, thoughts, perceptions—in short, our “voice.”

Reading deprivation is crucial because it forces us into ourselves. As Cameron says, it “casts us into our inner silence . . . our own inner voice, the voice of our artist’s inspiration.” To write anything worthwhile—anything true to ourselves—we must explore, delve inside, and, whatever our discomfort, stay there. We must peel away those layers, to “begin to listen,” as writing counselor and psychologist Joan Bolker puts it, “to the demands of the inner world.”

Only this way, I believe, will we reach our own core and our unique expression in content and style. My friend, reading Kazin’s memoirs while working on his own, judged himself out of Kazan’s “league.” But my friend hadn’t stopped reading others to listen to his own voice. When you finally stop reading and enter, even tentatively, into your own nurturing mental and physical silence, you are, as Bishop assures us, “no longer out of your depths—you are pushing into them.”

But when you continue to read others as you write, your production will be a stale imitation of those you admire. It will not ring with your own resonance or stamp. And very likely you’ll never get to know what your own stamp is.

Why are you really writing, after all? Aside from the superficials—the hoped-for money, recognition, non-corporate-cubicle life—isn’t it your voice you crave to appear on the page, and not that of anyone else? Isn’t your fondest desire to say something original and unique, to develop the voice that’s quintessentially yours to express?

Of course.

Maybe you’re protesting with old rejoinders: Nothing is new under the sun, we stand on the shoulders of giants, everyone has the same experiences. Well, let me remind you of a few things.

Even if you write about the most common, overworked subject, no one else has had your experience or can filter it through your eyes and mind. No one else can bring your perspective to this subject. No one else has your voice or your core.

We’re afraid of going into our “depths” because we think we’ll discover only emptiness, or worse, inanity. Maybe we’re sure we’ll find only a pit of clichés, like snakes thrashing fiercely to get onto the page first. Maybe we fear we’ll find only shells of what we’ve readbefore, shadows of other writers’ phrases wafting through amorphous space like ghost ships. Maybe we fear, worst of all, that we really have nothing to say.

It takes trust to go deeper. We must quiet all virtuous instruction, external influences, stimulations, and admirations. We must trust in the richness and inexhaustibility that is in us to discern what’s really there and bring it out.

So, go quiet and listen for your own voice—your ideas, emotions, perceptions, views, vision. Go deep into your experiences—the ones you dread and the ones you treasure. Let them surface.

The deeper you go, the more courage you’ll gain and the more strength you’ll find to transfer to the page what you’ve discovered. As you keep writing, you’ll marvel at the unearthings of a you you didn’t know, a you who offers worlds more to discover and transmute for others. And maybe to your shock, you’ll find that you even like what you see. You’ll find your own splash of freshness on the world, your own power.

Turn from the ubiquitous easy distractions. Within you are fertile worlds hardly plumbed. They’re humbling, exciting, and infinitely accessible. They’ll show you what you’re meant to write. Stop reading, listen inside, and begin.

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Author, editor, ghostwriter, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, I write fiction and nonfiction and have published over 250 pieces in print and online venues. I have contributed many guest blogs and in July 2012 started a column in Coffeehouse for Writers, “Bloom Where You’re Writing.” With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years I have helped doctoral candidates complete their dissertations (finally). In my current book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books; one of the ten best 2011 ebooks), I draw examples from my practice and other aspects of life to help writers and others release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. www.trustyourlifenow.com

Photo: Some rights reserved by xJason.Rogersx.

Editor’s note: I’d be interested to see some lively debate on this topic. Can you make an argument that a writer should never stop reading? Or, as Noelle beautifully states, is there a time to “[s]top reading, listen inside?”

[Audio] Greek Human Creation Myths

This is an audio recording by Brandon Monk.

In this episode I discuss three Greek creation myths:

1. Prometheus creates humans with his brother Epimetheus.

2. The gods create men, starting with the golden race, and working to the iron race.

3. The “flood” creation myth.

Then, I talk about how women were created and about Zeus’ revenge on Prometheus and mankind through the use of Pandora.

Books Provide Good Nutrition

This is an essay by Anjali Amit.

My father was a collector. He collected books the way people collect stamps, or coins or matchboxes.  Of course books are not small things that are easily stowed away. Books take space. Wherever we turned there was a book in some stage of being read. In such a home how could one not read?

I remember one summer. It was a lazy, languorous day, too hot for run-about games. I’d gathered a pile of books, a tall glass of lemonade, and escaped to the garden. My mother called me in for something. When the chore was done I sat down perplexed. I was thinking of a snack to take out, but what? Then it struck me — the snack I was looking for was the book I was reading. Reading was as satisfying as a snack.

I would gladly have spent my days reading, with the occasional foray into the dining room for a snack. However, the same books that provided such entertainment also talked of the value of a disciplined lifestyle: regular sleeping hours, exercise for good health and three nutritious meals a day. My parents had their arguments provided to them gratis.

“But your books say to eat healthy,” was my mother’s rejoinder  to all attempts to spend the day curled up with a book. “And no, hastily gobbled snacks do not count as healthy eating. I expect to see you at the dining table young lady.”

“Early to bed, early to rise/ Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” my father intoned in the evenings. Of course he was the great reader, and could quote extensively to make his point. But he did follow his precepts. We could set our clocks by his bedtime. He was an early riser. After a leisurely cup of tea and communion with the newspaper he would wake up his laggard children for the morning walk.

“One day Dad I will find a writer who refutes your quoted wisdom,” I said to him often.

“Until then we will strengthen your mind with fresh air and good conversation,” he would reply gleefully. I think now that this was his way of encouraging me to read.

And read I did. It was an eclectic diet of books. Poetry and penny-dreadfuls, classics and thrillers, all were fair game. Research studies were dry reading, but I plowed through them nonetheless.

“Schools are an outdated institution,” I announced at the table one night.

“Really?” asked my mother.

“Yes. I read it in a book,” I announced triumphantly. I could quote from books too.

“Hmm. So maybe you should stop going to school?”

“What? I didn’t say that,” I said.

“No. But you didn’t analyze what you read,” replied my father. “The writer may be talking of a specific situation. He may be espousing a different education system. You read his words and repeated them unthinkingly.”

I learnt the value of thinking on the reading. The first requirement for a meal to provide nutrition was that the food be properly chewed. Words needed to be chewed on too I learnt, thought about, teased through the various layers of meaning for them to provide nutrition to the mind.

“You wouldn’t eat junk food everyday, would you?” asked my mother one day. “Don’t put junk in your mind.”

“And how would I know what is junk?” I asked.

“Read long enough and you will learn,” she replied, my mother who would go to used- book sellers and buy books by the  bag full.

We argued, discussed, chewed on and digested ideas that the reading exposed us to. Hillaire Belloc wrote:

When I am dead,

I hope it may be said:

“His sins were scarlet,

But his books were read.”

And digested, I would add, to create a well-nourished mind. There is no better epitaph for a reader. Wouldn’t you agree?

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Anjali Amit does not subscribe to the ‘eat to live or live to eat’ debate. She reads to live. Occasionally she writes stories for children, and has been known to create a crossword or two.

Photo:  Some rights reserved by syvwlch.

Book Havens: On the Importance of Libraries

This is an essay by Chris Ciolli.

Defining libraries

What is a library, anyway? A modern public building where you can access painstakingly organized print, audio and digital media with a large fountain and sculpture gardens outside; bookcases along a hallway or corner of your house; a large room striped with floor-to-ceiling shelves housing reference materials and great literature at your school; an e-book reader loaded with 4,000 plus titles: all of the above fit my definition of “library.”

If in effect, a library is a collection of books and other media, what makes a library a book haven? A book haven is a place where readers can curl up with a favorite novel, or go out on a limb and explore a new genre or subject without feeling uncomfortable.

So while an e-reader certainly qualifies as a collection of books and other media (a highly portable one), it’s not exactly a book haven by my definition, as it carries with it no physical space for the act of reading. Public libraries, school libraries, and private libraries in businesses and homes, on the other hand, do.

Why libraries are important

Like it or not, for as long as the written word has existed, we’ve been passing along much of our knowledge as a society and a species via books. Oral traditions of passing down knowledge from one generation to another aren’t dead and certainly deserve our respect and efforts at preservation, but they are limited by the short reach of human memory. Books are a reference (and a pleasure) that can be gone back to, again and again.

Public libraries

Having access to a good-sized collection of books and a comfortable space to lose yourself in the words of great writers and researchers will improve your life and your conversation. Public libraries are great for exploring writers and ideas that don’t fall into your favorite genres and topics. Check them out for a month or spend a few afternoons with them in a corner of the library. The non-permanence of getting a book on loan helps readers and thinkers to take risks they might not make when purchasing a book (not that buying means forever in the Amazon age, anyway). Public libraries allow people of any income level to be well-read, because let’s face it, books can be an expensive habit, with newly published hardback titles running $25 plus, and bargain paperbacks and e-versions starting at $3.99. Even garage sale finds add up at 25 cents a book plus the gas you spend to get there.

Personal libraries

Personal libraries are ideal for cherishing the books and reference materials that you know you’ll go back to again and again: Stories that you adored and will read again; books that provoked you into a new way of thinking that you’ll share with interested friends; photo books that pushed you to get out and see the world around you a new way; the recipe books that inspired your best dinner parties.

Your personal library can (and should) be a sanctuary for your most-loved texts, as well as a comfortable place to explore new favorites in a comforting atmosphere, surrounded by tomes that you know you can pull out whenever you want, and enjoy again and again.

What you can do to promote and protect libraries

Unfortunately for library lovers everywhere, public libraries are expensive to maintain. Keeping a full-time staff to organize the books and help library patrons is not a minor expense, and then there are the costs of maintaining the building, heating, cooling, water, etc, and that’s before the library buys new books and replaces damaged books. Never fear, there’s plenty you can do to help. Your first priority should be to use your public library and let others know that you do. Number two is use the library respectfully: Be quiet; don’t hog more books than you can read; return your books on time; be nice to the books and reference materials (they’re expensive to replace).

Another way to support your library is to donate your time or money. Many smaller libraries depend upon volunteers to help them keep the library fully staffed. Still others need volunteers for community programs (that get people into the library) like children’s story times and craft activities, or monthly book clubs for adults. Donating your time to a library by giving a short presentation or workshop is a great way to promote your skills and become better known in your community. Do you make jewelry? Why not teach a short workshop on how to make a simple design from a book available at the library. Have you written a book about something? Why not give a lecture about the topic (or even about writing a book). Those short on time can donate their hard-earned green towards new books and continued educational programs.

Is your town talking about closing the public library?  Get involved, fundraise, and generally raise a ruckus.

Do you live somewhere where there isn’t a local or area library? Why not talk to local coffee shops and businesses about having an informal lending library where people can take a book if they leave a book, or a local school or community college about allowing the community to use the library during certain hours and take out books for a small yearly membership fee.

Even if you’re convinced digital words are the future, why not dedicate an actual physical space in your life to the written word and share that space with friends and family? Even if you’re reading on a kindle, there’s something very homey about reading in the shadow of shelves crammed with books that are like old friends. Besides, let’s face it, one of the big fails on the e-readers is the ability to lend books and one of the bigger joys in reading is sharing a great story with a fellow word-junkie.

Do you use your local public library?

Do you have a library or a reading nook in your home?

Do you need a special space to read, or are you comfortable reading anywhere?

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Chris Ciolli: A writer and translator by trade, Chris Ciolli spends her spare minutes reading, traveling and playing with art supplies. Okay, so sometimes she sleeps, eats and slurps coffee, too. Learn more about her at ChrisCiolli.com, read about her travels at Midwesternerabroad.com, or follow her on twitter @ChrisCiolli.

Photo: Some rights reserved by thejester100

A Day of Reading, A Lifetime of Knowledge

This is an essay by Cody Wheeler.

I never used to be much of a reader. In high school, I only read when it was required for book reports. In college, the only reading I did was cramming for tests. I never really saw the value in it until a good friend of mine recommended a book to me called “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac.

This is a classic in American literature. It’s a book about two friends traveling across the country hitch hiking, getting into all kinds of antics, and having the time of their lives. It’s a very pure read and I couldn’t put it down. I read that book in a single day, and that day changed my life forever.

An Amazing Array of Benefits

It was after I read that book cover to cover that I realized the value that reading had to offer. To me, it was an escape from the world and a way to relax, a way for me to stimulate my imagination and exercise my brain, a way for me to experience something I may not be able to conjure up myself.

Humans have been on this planet for thousands of years. Each and every generation has documented their experiences in the pages of the books of our world. Whether through stories of fiction, or books full of facts – books offer an endless amount of knowledge from some of the brightest minds on the planet.

For anyone looking to become more than they are today, it’s insane not to take advantage of. Books offer you a simple way to sit down with anyone from every day freelance writers to some of the greatest minds that have ever lived. You have the incredible opportunity to enjoy their wisdom and experiences through written print – all while relaxing, escaping, and experiencing something that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Anything you could ever want to learn is written somewhere. All you have to do is find it.

A Life Completely Changed

From the day I picked up “On the Road” to now, I’ve probably read over 100 books. Many that teach skills, many that teach philosophy of thought, all of which together, have significantly impacted my life.

From that day I’ve gone from being a semi-lost college kid that had no idea what he wanted to do, to a highly educated man with a graduate degree, near six figure income, and developing dream that will hopefully impact the world in a very positive way.

All of this has been made possible through the books that I’ve read over the years and the experiences I have been exposed to through reading them. Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order.

Six Books of Life-Changing Knowledge

Think and Grow Rich – A classic by Napolean Hill, this book harnesses the successes of some of the most extraordinary people that have ever lived. It teaches how deep desire and the power of thought can catapult a person to amazing success.

Psycho Cybernetics – With over 30 million copies sold, this psychology classic by Dr. Maxwell Maltz basically pioneered the self-help industry. It teaches you how to program your self image to literally put your success on autopilot.

Influence – Another classic by Robert Cialdini. This one is all about psychological triggers that are programmed into humans. These techniques are used all over the world in many different fields to influence decision-making, most often by consumer targeted advertising.

Four Hour Work Week – Written by the inspiring Tim Ferris, this book chronicles the life of the New Rich, teaching techniques to hack the world, escape the 9-5 grind, and live life on your own terms.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich – A rogue offering on personal finance, this book written by Ramit Sethi teaches you not just what you need to do to get control of your finances, but also how to change your behaviors to stay on the right course.

No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs – Written by the renegade marketer and dynamic speaker Dan Kennedy, this is no ordinary time management book. Dan lays it all out in this one and even goes as far as telling you to never use the phone. It’s definitely a different perspective on time management that caters to maximum output.

Those six books and many more have shaped my life and taught me lessons to form the basis of the way that I live and the things that I have a passion for. Reading has brought me so much to date, and its something that will always be a part of my every day life.

From one life scholar to another, I highly recommend making reading a very regular part of your life.

What has been the most influential book you have read? What lessons did you take away from it?

cody wheeler academy successCody Wheeler is a Lifestyle Design blogger at Academy Success. He focuses on teaching his readers how to develop themselves into more productive, effective, and happy people through simple and actionable content. Grab his Productivity Success Secrets action guide now available for free download.